Stark: Bryce Harper is back with the Phillies. But what lies ahead?

CLEARWATER, Fla. — It was 10:16 a.m. on Thursday, the first day of the rest of Bryce Harper’s career. He is still the center of the Phillies’ universe. But thanks to a little detour we call Tommy John Surgery, spring training began 21 days later for Harper than for everyone else on this roster.

“Just good to be back,” he said as he plopped down on a picnic bench outside the Phillies’ clubhouse on Day One of the Bryce Is Back tour.

It all looked so familiar, but only if you were viewing this scene from the front row. Take a ride with us now beyond the upper deck, to the view from 30,000 feet. Then think about how much the world has spun in so many different ways since the last time Bryce Harper was spotted at a ballpark, in Game 6 of the World Series.

His team now overflows with big names and big dreams. … His sport is suddenly awash in dollars, and it has led to a flurry of free-agent deals that dwarf his. … That game he plays is swirling in rule changes that will significantly impact Harper himself — whenever his right elbow is healthy enough for him to play again.

“Good for baseball,” Harper said at one point, when the subject of those monster contracts came up.

But you know what else is good for baseball? That dude, Bryce Harper.

He reminded us last October that he is a special member of the baseball species, rising to one gigantic moment after another and firing off the first six-homer, 13-extra-base-hit, 1.100 OPS postseason by any National League player in postseason history. And then there was this — an epic baseball moment, a memory for a lifetime.

It was his Bedlam at the Bank NLCS moment, a magical swing of the bat that propelled his team into a World Series nobody saw coming. He said Thursday that when he kicked back this winter, he watched one at-bat from that postseason. Want to take a wild guess which one?

“I watched my bat against the Padres,” he admitted. “But that’s about it. I mean, when you reflect on things, it’s great, right? But I like to keep things behind me a little bit. I like to kind of move forward and get going.”

OK, so let’s take him up on that. Let’s look forward, at Bryce in 2023 and beyond. The next couple of months will be murky. But after that? Could be quite a ride, through the new universe he is about to visit.

Bryce in 2023

Will you even see him on a field this spring? In a game? No chance.

Taking batting practice? That’s possible, said his manager, Rob Thomson, on Thursday.

Maybe live BP, off a real pitcher?

“Probably not,” Thomson said. “Maybe at the very end.”

But even on day one, there was slight progress. For the first time since a foul ball against Ryan Pressly in the final inning of the World Series, Harper took a swing at a real baseball Thursday — 16 of them, to be exact. They were sitting on a tee, but it’s something. The road back from Tommy John surgery is a day-to-day journey, and not one even someone like him can hurry.


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Read More: Stark: Bryce Harper is back with the Phillies. But what lies ahead? 2023-03-10 13:24:47

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